104 Battalion REME is responsible for fixing all the Army’s kit including; weapons, trucks, tanks and helicopters. In order to do this around the world, REME tradesmen are trained to the highest level as both soldiers and technicians gaining civilian qualifications in the process. Their Battalion HQ is based in Northampton, with Companies in Corby, Nottingham, Swindon, Ipswich, Coventry and Redditch.
The Stubai Glacier is the glorious backdrop for many Army skiing expeditions and has been for several years. Stubaital is located in Tyrol in the Austrian Alps mountain region. It is a truly stunning region and hosts several Adventure Training (AT) approved skiing courses throughout the ski season. The Army’s footprint here is so widespread that there is the famous REME lodge and military personnel can benefit from discounted ski hire in various rental shops.
When a chance comes along to get away on AT for a Reservist, it’s not something to be missed as the opportunity to get time off civilian work often might not coincide with the dates set for AT. This proved to be one of the best exercises I’ve ever been on in my military career. As with everything in the British Army there is always some form of pain and endurance involved in an exercise; the journey out was certainly proof of that. The journey to Stubaital was undertaken in the not so luxurious comfort of a Combi van and took over 22 hours to complete, crossing border after border of European countries from France, through Belgium, Germany and finally into Austria. It was an emotional bonding experience, which naturally brought me much closer (physically and emotionally) to my new ski buddies for the coming week, many who I had not met before.
Arriving in the amazing surroundings of Stubaital made the long journey seem worthwhile, it was the typical stunning picturesque mountain scenery you see in films. The little village we stayed in was set deep into a valley feature with delightful wooden lodges and hotels scattered all over, which was precisely the kind of accommodation we had for the duration of the stay. Our hosts were a delightful couple who ran their lodge by themselves, with the owner, Howie, an ex British Army Serviceman himself, who was clearly used to catering to large military parties. Not only was the lodge a lovely mountain style cabin but every night we were served up some amazing traditional Austrian home-style cooking, quite clearly the best food I’ve had on any military exercise!
Upon arrival the surroundings were not the only thing that was glorious, so was the weather. However, we were here to ski not sunbathe, hence it was slightly worrying when looking at the sides of the mountains and seeing very little snow.
Luckily when we started skiing on day 1 there was enough snow on the slopes to cover a lot of the area and then rather fortuitously on day 3 there was a large snow dump, which gave us amazing off piste powder! On the first day we were all split down into our ability groups and luckily due to my many years of skiing experience I was placed onto the advanced group whereby I would gain both my Ski Foundation (SF) 1 and 2 qualifications in the same week. Being an army AT expedition there is always an aim with a target to achieve and in this case it was to develop a Regimental skiing capability. In my case I gained my SF2 with a recommendation from our group Instructor WO1 Carty to do SF3 as soon as possible in order to then become an Army Ski Instructor.
After establishing the ability of the group early on day 1, we started to get into some ‘shake out’ skiing, since many had not skied in many years. By the afternoon the group was happy enough to start upping the pace and throwing ourselves full throttle at the red slopes and off piste sections. The Stubai Glacier lends itself more to off piste adventures for the more expert skier as the on piste runs are fairly easy. At the end of day 1 a weary bunch of tired legs headed to rest… Oh wait, this wouldn’t be the Army if some form of ‘socialising’ weren’t involved. We headed to the famous (or infamous) Umbrella Bar, where the allure of cheap but tasty Austrian beer and crazy Austro-techno music was overwhelming. This became a feature of our daily après-ski and naturally we had to keep our daily designated drivers who couldn’t partake in the madness so that we could all get home in one piece (ish).
As the week unfolded my group completed all the mandatory exercises that are required for SF2, which has an introductory element of ski touring, one day of ski touring tasks such as a short ski tour up the mountain and avalanche rescue drills using transponder devices. It was a thoroughly enjoyable and tiring week, which naturally culminated in a long (but speedier) return leg journey in the Combi van.
I would thoroughly recommend a skiing AT exped like this to anyone currently serving or anyone thinking of joining as it really helps develop sporting ability and strengthens bonds with people who you serve alongside but often only at weekends.
Lt. Daniel Cognolato
118 Recovery Company, 104 Battalion Reserves, REME
Manufacturing Engineer, Vauxhall Motors